The NFL Network’s annual special in which players rank their peers based on the previous year’s performances concluded this week. “Top 100 Players of 2014” saw Peyton Manning claim the top spot, Richard Sherman ranked the highest defensive player at no. 7 and Jimmy Graham ranked the highest tight end – or third-highest wide receiver, if he would prefer – at no. 10.
Two New York Jets made the list this year: Defensive Rookie of the Year DT Sheldon Richardson came in at no. 94, and Muhammad Wilkerson cracked the top 50, being placed no. 42.
It’s nice to see two-thirds of the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ be recognized this way, but as a Jets fan, I can’t help feeling that two Jets on the list is not enough. There are fantastic players on all 32 teams that deserve recognition, so my solution is to rank the ten best Jets going into the new season.
My rankings are based on “What have you done for me lately?” as well as how I expect them to perform in 2014. No rookies were considered, however tempting it is to rank Calvin Pryor and Jace Amaro among the veterans. I did allow newly signed free agents to be listed, judging them on how they performed for their old teams in 2013.
LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson
Fans tend to forget that the Jets have been consistently solid at the ever-important left tackle position for many years now. Ferguson may draw his share of penalties, but according to FootballOutsiders.com, the Jets were most efficient when running to Ferguson’s side, including a third-best 4.81 adjusted line yards per carry to the left end.
RB Chris Ivory
I didn’t have room to put Ivory or his backfield mate, Bilal Powell, in the top 10, but now I wish I let myself count them as a package deal. As a two-headed attack, Ivory and Powell ran for 1,530 yards on 358 carries (a better average than newcomer Chris Johnson put up for Tennessee). Still, Geno Smith led the team in rushing touchdowns, scoring twice as many as Ivory.
Now to the top 10:
10. RB Chris Johnson
He may not be the 2,000-yard rusher we saw in 2009, but he’s run for 1,000 yards in each of his first six years in the league. Chris Johnson still brings a set of fresh, explosive legs to the Jets. As I mentioned, Ivory and Powell put up a better combined average than him last year. The former CJ2K did in fact average a career-low 3.9 yards per touch in 2013, but he’ll have a better offensive line in New York. More importantly, he won’t be asked to carry the offense the way he had to in Tennessee.
9. LB Quinton Coples
The Jets’ front seven is clearly their strength, and my list reflects that – six of the front seven made my top 10. Coples converted from defensive end to outside linebacker last year, allowing both him and Wilkerson to start in Rex Ryan’s 3-4 system. There have been growing pains, but Coples still managed to make 4.5 sacks and 38 tackles.
8. K Nick Folk
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Folk’s career year. He made a career high 91.7 percent of his field goals, with a long of 54 yards, and all 27 extra points. He was so clutch for the Jets that Rex Ryan dubbed him “Folk Hero” during the season. (Relax. It’s completely fine to have a kicker be one of your team’s ten best players.)
7. NT Damon Harrison
His nickname is “Snacks.” He doesn’t get the sacks or the recognition that Richardson and Wilkerson do. But Damon Harrison can stuff a runner before he gets back to the line of scrimmage, and he’s emerged as the clear starting nose tackle on this team. I wouldn’t be surprised if the third part of the Sons of Anarchy cracked the “Top 100 Players of 2015.”
6. LB David Harris
I don’t understand why some fans have been calling Harris overrated. All he did last year was lead the Jets in tackles for the second year in a row, with 124. An excellent 3-4 run-stopper, Harris is underappreciated but vital to the Jets’ defense.
5. WR Eric Decker
The Jets’ prize free agent signing is coming to save a wide receiving corps that has been one of the worst in the league for a few years running. Overshadowed by “Top 100” members Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker in Denver’s superb passing attack, Decker caught 172 balls for 2352 yards and 24 touchdowns in two seasons with Peyton Manning. In contrast, no Jet caught for more than 827 yards or four touchdowns in one year since 2012.
4. C Nick Mangold
The “Top 100 of 2014” included only one center, Carolina’s Ryan Kalil at no. 93. As one of the top centers in the league, Mangold has been snubbed for several years in a row now. More so than Ferguson, Mangold has been the most consistent anchor of the Jets’ O-line, regardless of how un-sexy his position is. I think he should have made the NFL Network’s list, along with my number three Jet…
3. LB Calvin Pace
Another one of the Jets’ most underrated players. I don’t care that he’s turning 34 – this is not a list of who I’d build an expansion team around. Pace recorded a career-high ten sacks last year. He and Wilkerson became the first pair of Jets teammates to record double-digit sacks in a season since the New York Sack Exchange of Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau in 1980 and 1981 – before sacks were an official statistic. Like a choice wine, Pace seems to be getting better with age, and he absolutely deserves this third spot.
2. DT Sheldon Richardson
How else can we finish than with the two Jets who made the NFL Network’s top 100? It bothers me that the voting players ranked Richardson lower than Kiko Alonso, the Buffalo linebacker who Richardson beat out for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Some fans scoffed when the Jets chose Richardson over DT Star Lotulelei with the 13th pick in 2013; Richardson proved himself by recording 78 tackles, 3.5 sacks, a forced fumbles and two rushing touchdowns as a goal-line fullback.
1. DE Muhammad Wilkerson
In his first three years in the NFL, Wilkerson has become one of the top pass rushers in the league. I always felt he was underrated until watching the NFL Network special, where I was delighted to see his peers had combined to vote him into the top 50. Besides leading the team with 10.5 sacks, Wilkerson made 63 tackles and an interception and forced two fumbles. His constant pressure on the quarterback gives Jets fans plenty to look forward to for the rest of his career.